Movie Review: “The Wrestler”
Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler.”
When the public loses a great artist, not by death but by foolishness or misadventure, the impact is not usually realized until, by some miraculous intervention, that performer is returned to the spotlight after years in the wilderness. Director Darren Aronofsky must have felt the vacuum left by Mickey Rourke when the great method actor squandered his career in the early ’90s, and “The Wrestler” is his restoration.
Rourke, who is nominated for a best actor Oscar for this performance, is a mass of sinew and scars as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a pro-wrestler who was as big as Hulk Hogan in his ’80s heyday. But Randy landed the way so many entertainers do in professions without retirement or medical insurance: near destitute, wringing out the last drops of his ability and fame on the margins. He clings to the bright lights whenever he can, though they get dimmer by the day.
Randy’s only confidant is Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), a stripper who, like Randy, is realizing too late that she didn’t pay attention to the “sell by” date on her profession. The fact that his only real friend works in a strip club says volumes about how everything else fell away in Randy’s life, including his now-grown daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), who wonders why her father never was around. There are no good answers.
Rourke invests fully in Randy’s mounting personal disaster, and the greatest scenes in “The Wrestler” come when three elements intertwine: Randy’s faux-glorious past, his rotting present, and Rourke’s own personal and professional history. It’s hard not to be reminded that when Rourke became persona non grata in film and sacrificed his career, his looks and his reputation to become a middling boxer, his own life drew sharp parallels to Randy’s fall from grace. To his credit, Aronofsky allows this element to deepen his story and character rather than become a sideshow, and the director never looks down on his creations — they exist on their own terms, however meager they might be.
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